Tag Archives: gang of eight

From the Committee to the Senate Floor: The Immigration Bill Survives!

22 May

 

Yesterday, by a vote of 13-5, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 744, the immigration reform bill.Flake  Three Republicans (Lindsey Graham (SC),Graham Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT)) joined all ten Democrats to vote the legislation out of committee. Hatch

 

 

 

 

 

The five opponents were the five Republicans who had spent the several mark-ups attempting to torpedo the legislation with odious and unworkable amendments, most of which were defeated.  Yet, Senators Jeff Sessions (AL), Ted Cruz (TX), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Lee (UT), and Chuck Grassley (IA), have vowed to renew their efforts on the Senate floor, where the bill goes next.
Cruz Lee and Cornyn

The bill emerged after several mark-up sessions, largely intact. The bill still offers a provisional status and a path to citizenship, expedited residence and citizenship for undocumented youth, improvements in due process, increased use of E-Verify, tighter border controls, a new temporary worker visa, improved opportunities for employment-based immigration, enhanced H-1B provisions, and more liberal policy for asylum seekers.

The bill was improved by the passage of the following amendments:

  • Coons 2- limits ICE’s authority to perform nighttime removals.
  • Coons 5- provides immigrants with statutory right to see their “A-file” in removal proceedings
  • Hirono 21- allows undocumented youth to obtain federal financial aid
  • Blumenthal 2- prohibits solitary confinement of individuals in ICE detention
  • Blumenthal 8- restricts ICE enforcement at schools and hospitals.
  • Blumenthal 12- provides for expedited naturalization for undocumented youth in military

The bill was made worse by the following amendments:

  • Grassley 44- made conviction of a third DUI an aggravated felony.
  • Graham 1- allows DHS to terminate asylum of an individual who returns to country of nationality

The Committee fought off several “poison pill” amendments designed to gut the entire process or to make the immigration system more inhumane than it is today:

    • Cruz 3- would have barred anyone who was ever out of status from obtaining citizenship
    • Grassley 1- would have retained the one year filing deadline for asylum
    • Cornyn 3- would have made people convicted of minor offenses ineligible for provisional status
    • Grassley 18- would have required applicants for provisional status to disclose all previous social security numbers

GS

  • Sessions 1- would have imposed a $5000 minimum bond for release from custody
  • Grassley 67- would have subjected businesses hiring H or L workers to increased audits and bureaucratic oversight
  • Lee 15- would have required affirmative intent in employment discrimination based upon national origin
  • Grassley 34- would have imposed 20 year sentence for document fraud convictions
  • Grassley 45- would have expanded criminal penalties for illegal entry and re-entry

The strength of the bill was enhanced by the support of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.  Senator Hatch has long been a champion of the H-1B program.  The Committee adopted Senator Hatch’s amendments to increase the availability of H-1B visas and earned the Senator’s support in the Committee.  Senator Hatch has not committed to his vote on the floor, but his support in committee, made the bill more strongly bipartisan and showed that the “Gang of 8” can pull reasonable Republicans into the bipartisan consensus that our immigration system requires serious overhaul.  This compromise required some serious accommodation by both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee and it is a welcome sign for our democracy that this issue did not cause the wholesale breakdown that we have come to expect.  This suggests that immigration reform has become a categorical imperative for both parties.

Unfortunately, the bill that came out of committee is as defined by what it does not include by what it does include.  Under pressure from the White House, Senator Leahy pulled his amendment to ensure that LGBT individuals and couples are treated equally and fairly under the immigration bill.  Republicans, including members of the Gang of 8, had balked at LGBT inclusion and, as a result, the Committee gave into homophobia.  We are extremely disappointed that LGBT families were thrown aside in the passage of this bill.  We remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will make this a non-issue soon enough.

The bill will now head to the senate floor, where there will be more debates and amendments.  Immigration reform will likely dominate the Senate for the month of June.  In some good news, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has said that he has no plans to block consideration of the bill.  While any single Senator can filibuster a bill, that Senator needs the support of 40 of his/her colleagues to sustain the filibuster and it is hard to imagine that succeeding without the support of the Senate leadership.

We hope for a strong show of support from the United States Senate.  A bill that gathers 65+ votes will storm out of the Senate and place a lot of pressure on the House to support common sense immigration reform.

What’s Happening with the Immigration Bill? What is a mark-up??

7 May

Gang of eight

It has now been a couple of weeks since the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was introduced.  We provided a brief rundown of its main points and we give it, overall, good grades.  It certainly is much better than the status quo, but less generous than we might have designed ourselves.  But they are in Congress and we are in court.  Now that it is out, what happens?

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  Senator Leahy is a strong supporter of immigration reform and has acted quickly to move the legislation.  In the bill’s first weeks, he held hearings on the legislation.  Those hearings generated more heat than light and their contents have long been forgotten.  The bill moves ahead unscathed.  The bill also seems to have survived the terrorist bombings in Boston.  While immigration opponents seized on the foreign identities of the brothers Tsarnaev, the bill’s supporters were undaunted in arguing how the immigration bill would improve national security.  The ability of conservative members of the Gang of Eight to resist what must have been a strong impulse to jump ship gives us cause for optimism over the bill’s future.  Yesterday, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, released its most potent weapon against reform, a report in which they claim that reform will cost the American economy $6.3 trillion.  This salvo fell flat as Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, Grover Norquist, Haley Barbour and Jeff Flake  attacked the findings and methodologies of the Heritage report.  If the report was intended to weaken the resolve of Republicans pushing reform, it seems to have failed.  And, in a sign that the pro-immigrant crowd has gotten its political act together, the Immigration Policy Center was ready with its own report debunking the Heritage report.  In the 24 hour news cycle, speed is everything and IPC should be commended for its rapid response.

Leahy

Senators were also given until 5PM today to file their amendments to the bill.  All amendments were posted online on the Senate Judiciary Committee page for all to see.  This transparency contrasts with the middle of the night passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), the disastrous ’96 immigration bill that caused the vast majority of today’s immigration problems.  By showing the amendments, the Judiciary Committee has highlighted the differing opinions of Senators offering amendments to the bill.  For example, Senator Leahy seeks to add language that would require the recognition of same-sex marriages under the Immigration & Nationality Act.  His amendment has the virtue of simplicity.  It simply says that a marriage that is legal in any state shall be given full validity under U.S. immigration law.  To the contrary, Senator Grassley displays his intent to undermine reform.  Senator Grassley, who was one of the voices to suggest that the Boston bombing should put a halt to immigration reform, has submitted 77 amendments, as of 8PM Tuesday.   We chose one at random to get a sense of what Senator Grassley was up to.  We picked “Grassley39.”  This amendment would replace language in the bill that provides additional personnel to the immigration court system and replace it with a study to be conducted in the 18 months after passage of the law of the need for additional personnel.  The study would then be provided to the Judiciary Committee for consideration of additional legislation if necessary to relieve the understaffed immigration courts.  Of course, the overburdened immigration court system is well-documented and individuals routinely wait years for their hearing dates.  This backlog frustrates not only relief, Senator Grassley, but also removal.  If this amendment is representative of Senator Grassley’s contributions, it is clear for all that he is trying to undermine its needed reforms.  But we already knew that.grassley

Senator Leahy has scheduled a “mark-up” of the legislation for this Thursday, May 9.  A mark-up is a meeting in which Senators debate, amend and re-write proposed legislation.  The Committee will address all of these amendments.  It is likely, given the Democratic advantage and the presence of two Gang of Eight Republicans, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), that the legislation will emerge from the Judiciary Committee largely unscathed.  After the Judiciary Committee votes, after weeks in which they will have to consider the 300+ amendments, the bill will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote in the full Senate.  Expect major pyrotechnics there.

We will continue to update the progress of the bill as it moves through the Senate and the Congress.  Stay tuned.

 

What is the Deal with the Immigration “Line?”

28 Jan

Line

This morning, we had a chance to review the five page blueprint for immigration reform produced by a bipartisan group of eight Senators.  There is a lot to discuss on the blueprint, but one thing specifically jumped out at me:

“Once the enforcement measures have been completed, individuals with probationary legal status will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Those individuals who successfully complete these requirements can eventually earn a green card.

Individuals who are present without lawful status – not including people within the two categories identified below – will only receive a green card after every individual who is already waiting in line for a green card, at the time this legislation is enacted, has received their green card. Our purpose is to ensure that no one who has violated America’s immigration laws will receive preferential treatment as they relate to those individuals who have complied with the law.”

As an immigration lawyer, I have to ask “which line?”  There are dozens.  Let’s try to figure out what they could mean.  There are two basic ways that people seek residence, these are: (1) through family; and (2) through employment.  There are other means, but these represent the bulk of immigrant visas.  The Immigration & Nationality Act limits the number of immigrant visas can be issued annually.  The allocation of that finite number of visas is divided by type of application and country of nationality.  Demand exceeds supply and backlogs in each category have developed.  For example, the Jamaican unmarried son or daughter over 21 of a U.S. citizen would have had to  start the immigration process prior to December 22, 2005 to receive an immigrant visa today.  If the same immigrant were from the Philippines, she would have had to started the process fifteen years ago in 1997.  In the employment based context, an employer who seeks an immigrant visa on behalf of an Indian professional with a bachelor’s degree but no advanced degree would have had to start the process before November 8, 2002 for that employee to obtain a visa today.  On another note, the law allows immigration judges to grant residence to 4,000 people a year if they can demonstrate that they have been in the U.S. for ten years, have good moral character, and their removal would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship on their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse parent or child.   That cap has already been reached for this year and no new visas through cancellation may be granted until October 2013.  Thus, there are a variety of lines that immigrants may fall into.

How does one get into the queue?  A priority date is established when an immigrant petition or application for a labor certification is filed.  If the petition and/or labor certification is approved, an applicant may take her spot in line depending upon the category.  The immigrant visa backlog is maintained by the Department of State, which does not track applications for labor certifications until an immigrant petition has been filed.  Thus, there are many more thousands of people beginning to get in the queue by filing applications for labor certifications.  Also, the State Department is not aware when people drop off the queue.  A person can die while waiting and, obviously, leave the queue.  People get married, divorced or just grow disinterested in immigrating.  The queue is highly dynamic and fluctuates often.

So, which line do individuals go to?  The blueprint seems to require everyone in the queue to obtain residence before a single beneficiary of the new plan gets residence.  That might take a while.  After all, visas are now available for the Filipino brothers and sisters of American citizens if their American brother or sister originally sponsored them prior to April 15, 1989.  Twenty three years.  Does the plan truly require everyone in the queue to get their residence before anyone who applies under the new program?  Does this mean that no one will get a green card for at least 23 years??  It’s amazing that in an era where there is so much concern over “big government,” members of the Senate would propose a process that takes a quarter century to begin.  At least the Soviets stuck to five year plans.

Here is another sneaky fact that makes this whole idea unworkable.  Many of the undocumented in the U.S., the eleven million, that would supposedly benefit from this program, are already in the queue!!!  Many of them have sought immigration benefits and it is only due to the outrageous backlogs that they become undocumented. They have played by the rules, too, but the system has failed them.   It is a myth that there are so many people abroad who “play by the rules” and are waiting patiently for their turn to come in.  Yes, they exist, but not likely in the numbers that the back of the line crowd says, and should be immediately let in with residence rather than waiting in these atrocious backlogs.

There are, in fact, many highly skilled employees, waiting their turn to apply for residence due to backlogs in employment visas.  These folks are here on temporary visas, working and waiting.  They would seem to have a legitimate gripe if the undocumented got immediate residence.  But the solution is not this garbage about the back of the line.  Raise the immigrant visa numbers to an amount that is commensurate with the American employers’ demands for a workforce.  Don’t make immigrants pay for the arbitrary levels of immigration that were created nearly half a century ago.

So, that’s the issue with the line.  So far, the only politician we have seen who gets this is Jeb Bush, who published the most sane piece on immigration that we have seen during this discussion.  The former Florida governor wrote:  “There is no “line.” Critics of comprehensive reform often argue that illegal immigrants should return to their native countries and wait in line like everyone else who wants to come to America. But unless they have relatives in the U.S. or can fit within the limited number of work-based visas, no line exists for such individuals.For most aspiring immigrants, the only means of legal admission to this country is an annual “diversity lottery” that randomly awards visas to 55,000 foreigners. There are roughly 250 applicants for each visa every year. The absence of a meaningful avenue of access increases the pressure for illegal immigration.”

There are many lines; there is no line.  The line moves, grows and contracts.  Immigration reform will have to deal with this messy reality rather than attractive soundbites such as “go to the back of the line.”